Chemistry & Life Sciences

Visions In Plastics

Polymers Contra Climate Change

30.09.2010 -

Yes, Polymers Can!
Into the seventies of the last century, new polymers were developed to fill in gaps in the material tool box of engineers and designers. For the younger readers I would like to refer to the wonderful collection of plastic objects shown on www.deutsches-kunststoff-museum.de. Also the older readers will be happy to have a look back.
In the nineties, public awareness shifted and focused on waste disposal and the first recycling schemes were designed and brought into existence. Life cycle balances based on energy data proved that polymers compete favorably with natural materials in most applications. Discussions on plastics like PVC turned from an emotional perception and banning decisions to scientifically based acceptance of a valuable material. In packaging applications, the public discussion is still very heated by pictures of plastic bottles in distant parts of the ocean. We do have answers to these challenges e.g., degradable plastics.
But there are more challenging issues. How can polymer materials contribute to a slow down in climate change? Let us turn the question around: What can be done without polymer materials? What can be done without insulation foams to conserve heating and cooling energy, what without lightweight construction materials to make cars or airplanes more fuel efficient; just to mention some of the most important energy consumption areas?
And, think of all the plastic in electronic applications. The durability of plastics allow consecutive applications and often the energy used to produce the material can be regained in a power plant to a large extent. It is fair to say that the carbon foot print of most plastics is positive when the application is also taken into account, meaning there is less carbon used than saved.

This is Great News, but Who is Listening?
Are we as polymer chemists, plastics producers, and marketing people outspoken enough to make the public aware of our achievements, and are we able to hear and discuss the public questions and give the right answers?
Yes, we surely can. And in Düsseldorf at the K 2010 we have a good chance to be heard. With the knowledge of our poly-mer scientists and the innovative products of our industry we are in a very good position to get the public awareness our plastic materials deserve in the discussion about climate change. 

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